Increasing mass timber in construction is driving sustainable forest management according to Forest Business Network co-founder Arnie Didier.
The interview is the latest in the Timber Revolution series produced by Dezeen.
According to Didier, forest health is fundamental to the narrative of sustainable forest management and the increasing use of mass timber in construction.
For Arnie Didier, the story always starts with forest health.
Mass timber has the advantage of utilizing small and lower-quality trees that would not be suitable for traditional wood construction. This creates a commercial incentive for harvesting and utilizing these trees in a sustainable way, which in turn promotes the healthy growth of the surrounding forest.
Didier co-founded the Forest Business Network, a US organization that facilitates connections between agricultural, infrastructural, and governmental entities involved in forestry. This organization conducts an annual conference on mass timber in Oregon and publishes a yearly study on the sector.
In its 2022 study on mass timber, the network explains that forest stewards employ various measures, such as controlled burns and tree stripping, to manage fires and thin out the forest’s stock. This is done to preserve the more mature trees that are traditionally used in timber products.
Selective harvesting and it’s connection to Mass Timber
Traditionally profits gained from harvesting smaller trees were insufficient due to the high cost of extraction, and much of the timber was deemed unsuitable for traditional timber building projects. As a result, the carbon sequestered by these smaller trees would be released back into the atmosphere when they were burned.
Didier pointed out that much of North America has an “overwhelming” forest density, and selective harvesting – as opposed to clear-cutting – can provide an “outlet” for some of the smaller trees. This approach allows for the utilization of previously unused timber, which supports sustainable forest management and reduces carbon emissions. Didier told London based Deezen magazine:
“Selective cutting makes a lot of sense when you’re taking out smaller trees to allow the bigger trees to grow,” said Didier. “And you know, mass timber plays a big hand in that,” he said.
Lech Musynski, a professor in the Wood Science and Engineering department at Oregon State University, agreed that converting otherwise-useless trees removed to manage fires into mass timber could incentivise better practices.
The use of mass timber can lead to increased carbon sequestration by utilizing wood that would otherwise be burned, as noted by Musynski in the Deezen exclusive interview.
By using this wood, carbon is stored in mass timber structures for many years, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Musynski also cited Vaagen Brothers Lumber, a company in Washington State that proposed a project to assist federal forest management initiatives by extracting wood from areas where it is considered a waste product. This wood could then be used in mass timber production, providing an outlet for otherwise unusable wood.
Despite the potential benefits of mass timber for sustainable forest management, Musynski cautions that it may take time for the industry to completely change forestry practices.
While it presents opportunities to utilize otherwise wasted wood and store carbon, the long-term effects of the increased demand for wood products must be taken into account to ensure that the industry is sustainable he told the magazine.
“Nothing related to mass timber policies has great impact because this is a boutique industry,” he said.
Nevertheless, the demand for mass timber is beginning to outpace the production capacity of producers in North America.
“You’re having these entrepreneurs coming up with that formula that can utilise some of the smaller timber to produce bigger and better and stronger panels,” said Didier.
“Entrepreneurs win the day,” he said. “Any new kind of industry is a struggle, but we’re seeing more and more people surface that are looking at it as a viable business interest.”
Didier also said that willingness from tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon to use timber in their buildings was a driving force in the wider acceptance of the product.
“They liked the outcomes of the building for mass timber.”
For more information about the Timber Revolution visit the Dezeen website.
The Timber Revolution is the third in a trio of Revolution series run by Dezeen that investigate how materials and technology are impacting the world we live in. It follows on from the Carbon Revolution series in 2021, which looked at how the much-maligned element could be put to positive use, and the Solar Revolution, which explored how humans could fully harness the power of the sun.
- With extracts from Dezeen.